Listen/Notify mechanism in PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is a powerful, open-source object-relational database system that is well-renowned for its robustness, extensibility, and standards compliance. One such advanced feature is the Listen/Notify mechanism. This functionality in PostgreSQL provides a means for the database server to notify clients of specific database events, such as a change in a particular table. It can be especially useful in cases where clients need to be informed of changes without continuously polling the database. This post will explore the Listen/Notify mechanism in detail, including what it is, how it works, and how to use it effectively in PostgreSQL.

Understanding Listen/Notify

The Listen/Notify mechanism in PostgreSQL is an asynchronous communication method between the database server and its clients. The LISTEN command is used by a client to register its interest in a particular notification channel. The NOTIFY command, on the other hand, is used by a transaction to signal that an event of interest to some clients has occurred. When a transaction issues a NOTIFY command, all connections currently listening on the named notification channel are notified, allowing for immediate response to changes.

LISTEN some_channel; NOTIFY some_channel;

In the above example, any connection that executed the LISTEN some_channel command will be notified when NOTIFY some_channel is executed. The channel names are case-insensitive and are limited to 63 bytes in length. Note that channels are a means of grouping notifications and do not correspond to database objects such as tables or rows.

How to Use Listen/Notify in PostgreSQL

To use the Listen/Notify mechanism, you need a client application that connects to the PostgreSQL database and issues the LISTEN command. This can be done using various languages and libraries, such as psycopg2 for Python.

Setting Up Your Database

Let's assume we have a PostgreSQL database named sample_db and a table named users.


Using Listen/Notify with Python and psycopg2

Let's look at a Python example where we use psycopg2 to interact with our PostgreSQL database.

Install psycopg2 with pip:

pip install psycopg2-binary

Then, create a connection to your database:

import psycopg2 from psycopg2.extensions import ISOLATION_LEVEL_AUTOCOMMIT connection = psycopg2.connect( dbname="sample_db", user="your_username", password="your_password", host="localhost", port="5432" ) connection.set_isolation_level(ISOLATION_LEVEL_AUTOCOMMIT)

To register a LISTEN command, you can do as follows:

cursor = connection.cursor() cursor.execute("LISTEN users_notification;")

This will start listening for notifications on the users_notification channel.

To send a NOTIFY command when a new user is added, you can create a trigger in PostgreSQL as follows:

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION notify_new_user() RETURNS trigger AS $$ BEGIN PERFORM pg_notify('users_notification',; RETURN NEW; END; $$ LANGUAGE plpgsql; CREATE TRIGGER users_notify_trigger AFTER INSERT ON users FOR EACH ROW EXECUTE PROCEDURE notify_new_user();

The pg_notify function is used to generate a notification event. When a new row is inserted into the users table, the notify_new_user trigger function is called, and a notification is sent to the users_notification channel with the new user's id.

In your Python code, you can listen for these notifications likethis:

import select while True: if[connection],[],[],5) == ([],[],[]): print("Timeout") else: connection.poll() while connection.notifies: notify = connection.notifies.pop(0) print(f"Got NOTIFY: {}, {}, {notify.payload}")

In this code, the function is used to wait for the database connection to become readable, which indicates that there is a notification to process. The connection.poll() method is called to process incoming notifications, and then we loop over any notifications that have arrived, printing out the process ID that sent the notification, the channel it was sent on, and the payload of the notification (in this case, the new user's id).

Optimizing Listen/Notify

While the Listen/Notify mechanism is a powerful tool, it should be used judiciously to prevent excessive load on the PostgreSQL server. Here are some best practices:

  • Use a limited number of distinct channels: Each unique channel used consumes resources on the PostgreSQL server, so try to minimize the number of different channels you use.
  • Remove unneeded LISTEN registrations promptly: While LISTEN registrations are automatically removed when a session ends, it's good practice to explicitly UNLISTEN when you no longer need notifications.
  • Be aware that notifications are transactional: Notifications aren't sent until the transaction they're part of is committed. If a long-running transaction sends multiple notifications, they won't be delivered until the transaction is committed.


Can the Listen/Notify mechanism replace a traditional Pub/Sub system?

While the Listen/Notify mechanism can act as a simple Pub/Sub system, it's not a full-fledged message queue and shouldn't be used as such. PostgreSQL's primary function is a database, not a message broker. Using it as such could lead to performance issues.

Is there a limit to the number of listeners in PostgreSQL?

There's no hardcoded limit to the number of listeners. However, each session that issues a LISTEN command consumes server resources, so the practical limit depends on the server's capacity.

What happens if a notification is sent and no one is listening?

If a notification is sent on a channel and there are no listeners on that channel, the notification is simply discarded.

Can I send notifications from outside of a database transaction?

No, notifications can only be sent from within a database transaction. They're sent at the end of the transaction, regardless of whether the transaction is committed or rolled back.

What is the payload in a notification?

The payload is optional data that can be sent with a notification. It's often used to provide additional context about the event that triggered the notification.

What happens if two transactions send notifications at the same time?

If two transactions send notifications on the same channel at the same time, the notifications will be queued and delivered in the order the transactions were committed.


The Listen/Notify mechanism in PostgreSQL is a powerful feature that allows for efficient communication between the database server and its clients. It's a useful tool for certain use cases, but as with any tool, understanding how it works and its limitations is key to using it effectively. By implementing the practices and understanding the concepts discussed in this blog, you can leverage this functionality to enhance your database-driven applications.

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